Papal Homily at Episcopal Ordination

«The Church Is Not Our Church, but God’s Church.»

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 13, 2009 ( Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Saturday at an episcopal ordination celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

We affectionately greet and cordially join in the joy of these five brother presbyters of ours that the Lord has called to be successors of the Apostles: Monsignor Giordano Caccia, Monsignor Franco Coppola, Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli and Monsignor Giorgio Corbellini. I am grateful to each of them for the faithful service that they have rendered the Church, working in the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Governorate of Vatican City State, and I am certain that, with the same love for Christ and the same zeal for souls, they will carry out the ministry that is being entrusted to them today with episcopal ordination in new fields of pastoral action. According to the Apostolic Tradition, this sacrament is conferred through the imposition of hands and prayer. The imposition of hands happens in silence. The human word is inarticulate. The soul opens in silence to God, whose hand stretches out to man, who takes man for himself and, at the same time, covers him with his hand to protect him, so that consequently man becomes God’s total property, belonging entirely to God and bringing others into God’s hand. But, as the second fundamental element of the act of consecration, the prayer follows. Episcopal ordination is an event of prayer. No man can make another man a priest or bishop. It is the Lord himself who, through the word of prayer and the gesture of the imposition of hands, brings that man totally into his service, draws him into his own priesthood. He himself consecrates the elect. He himself, the only High Priest, who offered the one sacrifice for all of us, grants him participation in his priesthood, so that his word and his work are simultaneously present at all times.

The Church has developed an eloquent sign of this connection between Christ’s prayer and action on man in its liturgy. During the prayer of ordination, the opened Book of the Gospels, the Book of God’s Word, is placed upon the candidate. The Gospel must penetrate him, the living Word of God must, so to speak, pervade him. The Gospel, after all, is not just words — Christ himself is the Gospel. Along with the Word, Christ’s life itself must pervade that man, in such a way that he becomes wholly one with him, that Christ lives in him and gives his life form and content.

That which in today’s readings appeared as the essence of Christ’s sacerdotal ministry must be realized in him. The one who is consecrated must be filled with the Spirit of God and live from him. He must bring the glad tidings to the poor, the true freedom and hope that makes man alive and heals him. He must establish Christ’s priesthood among men, the priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, that is, the kingdom of justice and peace. Like the 72 disciples sent out by the Lord, he must be one who brings healing, who helps to bind up man’s interior wounds, his distance from God. God’s kingdom, about which today’s Gospel passage speaks, is not something «next» to God, some condition of the world: It is simply the presence of God himself, who is in truth the healing power.

Jesus summed up all of these multiple aspects of his priesthood in the one phrase: «The Son of man has not come to be served but to serve and to his life for the ransom of many» (Mark 10:45). Serving, and in doing so, give yourselves; not being for yourselves, but for others, on God’s behalf and in view of God: This is the most profound nucleus of Jesus Christ’s mission and, together, the true essence of his priesthood. Thus, he has made the term «servant» his highest title of honor. With that he achieved a reversal of values, he has given us a new image of God and of man. Jesus does not come as one of the masters of this world, but he, who is the true Master, comes to serve. His priesthood is not domination, but service: this is the new priesthood of Jesus Christ according to the order of Melchizedek.

St. Paul formulated the essence of this apostolic and sacerdotal ministry in a very clear way. Faced with disputes in the Church at Corinth which invoked different Apostles, he asks: But what is an Apostle? What is Apollo? What is Paul? They are servants; each in the way that the Lord has given him to be (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5). «Let a man so account us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now, that which is required of stewards is that each be faithful» (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). In Jerusalem during the last week of his life, Jesus himself spoke in two parables about those servants to whom the master has entrusted his temporal goods, and revealed three characteristics of serving in the right way, in which the image of the priestly ministry is also concretized. Finally, let us take a brief look at these characteristics, to contemplate, with the eyes of Jesus himself, the task that you, dear friends, are now being called to take on.

The first characteristic that the Lord requires of the servant is fidelity. He is entrusted with a great good that does not belong to him. The Church is not «our» Church, but his Church, God’s Church. The servant must give an account of the way that he has taken care of the goods that have been entrusted to him. We do not bind men to us; we do not seek power, prestige, esteem for ourselves.

We lead men to Jesus Christ and so to the living God. In doing this we introduce them to truth, and freedom, which comes from truth. Fidelity is altruism, and precisely in this way it is liberating for the ministry itself and for those to whom it is given. We know that things in civil society, and often in the Church too, go badly because those upon whom responsibility has been conferred work for themselves and not the community, for the common good. With a few lines the Lord traces an image of the wicked servant, who begins to stuff himself and get drunk and beat his fellow servants, betraying the essence of his duty in this way. In Greek the word that indicates «fidelity» coincides with that which indicates «faith.» The fidelity of the servant of Jesus Christ also consists precisely in the fact that he does not seek to adjust the faith to the fashions of the time. Christ alone has words of eternal life, and we must bring these words to people. They are the precious good that we have been given. Such a fidelity has nothing sterile and static about it; it is creative. The master reproaches the servant, who hid the good given to him in the earth to avoid taking any risk. In this apparent fidelity he has put the master’s good aside to dedicate himself exclusively to his own affairs. Fidelity is not fear, but it is inspired by love and its dynamism. The master praises the servant who made his goods fruitful. Faith must be shared: it has not been given to us for ourselves alone, for the personal salvation of our soul, but for others, for this world and for our time. We must bring it to this world so that it becomes a living force, to make the presence of God in the world grow.

The second characteristic that Jesus requires of the servant is prudence. Here we must immediately eliminate a misunderstanding. Prudence is something different from cleverness. Prudence, according to the Greek philosophical tradition, it is the first of the cardinal virtues; it indicates the primacy of truth, that becomes the criterion of our conduct through «prudence.» Prudence demands humble, disciplined and vigilant reason, [which can be] blinded by prejudices; it does not judge according to desires and passions, but it seeks the truth — even uncomfortable truth. Prudence means engaging in the pursuit of truth and acting in a way that conforms to it. The prudent servant is above all a man of truth and of sincere reason.

God, through Jesus Christ, has thrown open the window to truth for us that, had it been left to our own powers, wou
ld have remained shut tightly and only partly transparent. He shows us in Sacred Scripture and in the faith of the Church the essential truth about man, which gives our action the right direction. Thus, the first cardinal virtue of the priest who is the minister of Jesus Christ consists in letting himself be formed by the truth that Christ shows us. In this way we become truly reasonable men, who judge on the basis of the whole and not according to accidental details. We do not let ourselves be guided by the little window of our personal cleverness, but by the big window, that Christ has opened up to the whole truth for us, we look upon the world and men and [from this truth] see what truly counts in life.

The third characteristic that Jesus speaks about in the parable of the servant is goodness: «Good and faithful servant …enter into the joy of your master» (Matthew 25:21, 23). What is meant by the characteristic of «goodness» can be made clear to us, if we think about Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man. This man turned to Jesus, calling him «Good Master,» and received the surprising response: «Why call me good? No one is good but God» (Mark 10:17-18). Only God is good in the full sense. He is the Good, the Good par excellence, Goodness in person. In a creature — in man — being good is therefore necessarily based on a deep interior orientation to God. Goodness grows with interior unification with the living God. Goodness presupposes above all a living communion with God, the Good, a growing interior union with him. And in fact: from who else can one learn about true goodness if not from him who loved us to the end, to the extreme (cf. 13:1)? We become good servants through our living relationship with Jesus Christ. Only if our life unfolds in dialogue with him, only if his being, his characteristics penetrate us and form us, can we become truly good.

In the Church’s calendar today we remember the Name of Mary. In her who was and is totally united to the Son, to Christ, men in the darkness and sufferings of this world found the faith of the Mother who gives us courage to go forward. In the western tradition the name «Mary» has been translated as «Star of the Sea.» In this title is expressed this experience: how many times has the history in which we live appeared like a dark sea whose waves threateningly buffet the little ship of our life? Sometimes the night seems impenetrable. Often one can have the impression that only evil has power and God is infinitely far away. Often we can only glimpse from a great distance the great Light, Jesus Christ, who conquered death and evil. But now we see the light shining nearer to us when Mary says: «Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.» We see the light of goodness that emanates from her. In the goodness with which she welcomed and ever again comes to meet the great and small aspirations of many men, we recognize the goodness of God himself in a very human way. He gave us his Mother as our Mother, so that we learn from her to say the «yes» that makes us good.

Dear friends, in this hour we pray to the Mother of the Lord for you, so that she will always guide you toward her Son, source of goodness. And we pray that you become faithful, prudent and good servants and so you can one day hear from the Lord of history: Good and faithful servant, share in the joy of your master. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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